My family and I visited a church recently. Here are my observations on this visit. Though there were some good points, left to myself I probably wouldn’t go back. It’s not a just gripe session though. This article ends with suggestions on how this church (and any church struggling with similar concerns) can improve their visitor experience.
First the bad news, then the good.
When we walked in there wasn’t anyone assigned to greet guests and help them get to where they needed to go. We had to be outgoing and start asking people where the kids should go and were left to ourselves to find classrooms for two of them. In the nursery I was a bit uneasy at having two male nursery workers. It may sound sexist, but it’s a subconscious hangup that many people still have. It took some time of chatting with these guys for me to feel comfortable enough leaving my toddler there. There was also no check-in/check-out system to ensure children were picked up by appropriate people. The worship service seemed to lack energy and life. Looking around at the faces, I didn’t see any evidence of communion with the Divine during the music portion. The message would have made a decent Bible school lecture, but left much to be desired as a sermon. It consisted of about thirty-five minutes of historical background and five minutes of application. The preacher’s delivery had a regular cadence that began to lull me to sleep after a while. I found it difficult to keep my eyes open. My six-year-old did fall asleep on my lap. She’s never fallen asleep in church before. Speaking of children, the church did offer a children’s church option, but it wasn’t announced nor were directions given to inform guests of how to transition their children to this. Lastly, the sanctuary is pretty much at capacity. The average american desires four feet of personal space between them and a person they are not closely acquainted with. There weren’t many holes that large in the pews. Guests would feel uncomfortable sitting much closer than that with people they didn’t know.
Now the good news. The people were generally friendly. This can go a long way to covering many other deficiencies. Though no one was outgoing in helping us get around, once asked, they were all very friendly and open and willing to provide us directions to get where we needed to be. My twelve-year-old said she liked the church. Though she said she didn’t learn anything new from the sermon, it didn’t turn her off. What she really liked was Sunday School. For the first time in a long time she wasn’t the only one answering questions. And speaking of children, one of the Sunday School teachers, noticing my five-year-old son, offered to take him down to children’s church. After service he could actually tell me something of their lesson (the parable of the soils) and their craft actually linked to the story and brought it home. Apparently whatever other faults this church has, it does a fair job of educating it’s young people. On that same token, while the sermon was dry, it was also theologically sound. Too often, when visiting churches, I hear things which make me cringe, both from the people as well as the pulpit. This didn’t occur here. To me that also weigh’s heavily, but to the average church visitor that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
Explanation: Doctrinal soundness, general friendliness, and education of the young prevent a lower grade, but a seeming lack of interest in guests prevents a better grade.
Suggestions for Improvement: The good news here is that most of the deficiencies observed here are easily overcome. The establishment and training of a team of greeters would add much to the church’s appeal to guests. Initiation a simple child protection policy in the nursery is not very difficult and would go a long way to making families with young children much more comfortable and confident in the church. Likewise, adding a thirty second dismissal of children to children’s church with a volunteer to lead the way would enhance guest appeal among those with young children. I won’t comment on the preaching further. It could be that I simply caught the preacher on an off day. As for the space issue, the church has a multi-purpose room already set up with a projection system. It could easily be used for overflow. There would need to be some training and encouraging of existing members to use that overflow space so guests could sit in the sanctuary. While many, such as myself, would probably feel more comfortable in the less formal setting of the multi-purpose room after a while, initially guests tend to feel segregated if sat in remote overflow seating (e.g. that which is not physically attached to the main sanctuary and uses to a video feed to connect with the service).